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Top 10 ten tips 1. Play with and explore the effect of different shutter speeds. Sure shoot that motocross racer at 1/2000 second when he flies over the hill jump, but then switch to 1/20 second and pan or zoom him. 2. Boost ISO to boost shutter speed. It’s that simple. If that same motocross rider is really ripping up the hill and the day is cloudy, then set your ISO to 800, or even 1200, and you can get that action-stopping shutter speed of 1/2000 second. 3. Bracket shutter speeds. Most cameras have a bracketing control that lets you quickly take several shots at different shutter speeds automatically so you don’t have to pause and reset the shutter speed. 4. Anticipate and shoot fast-moving subjects a split second early. If you wait until you see the perfect moment before pressing the shutter button, you’ll probably miss the shot as the moment vaporizes almost instantly. Press the shutter button just before it occurs. 5. Know all your fast-action controls. ISO setting, jpeg compression setting, focus modes, frame rate setting (and high speed memory card)—these and other controls can all speed up your camera so it can catch those super fast moments by rapidly taking a large, sustained burst of photos. 6. Find the slowest speed you can handhold your camera. Don’t always use a tripod? Then your photos may not be sharp enough for big blowups. Take a series of pictures of the same subject while handholding the camera at 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, and 1/500 second and examine them for sharpness at 100% on your computer to see your minimum shutter speed for handholding the camera. 7. Determine the highest ISO you can use and still get high quality photos. Take another series of pictures, doubling the ISO each time. Start at ISO 100 or 200 and go all the way to ISO 3200. Examine the photos at 100%, particularly the shadow areas, and find out when the noise (colored pixels) becomes so high it reduces quality below your standard (sometimes noise reduction reduces the colored pixels and sharpness of small details). 8. Compose fast action a bit loosely. They wheel around, they jump, they fall down. Fast-moving subjects can be unpredictable. Although frame-filling shots add drama, you may harvest more of those climactic moments if you compose a bit loosely and then crop in tight in Photoshop to restore the drama. 9. Haunt the twilight world. Shutter speed isn’t just about action shots. Venture to those city overlooks at twilight and see how the building lights twinkle; note the date of the day before the “official” full moon when the moon will be just above the horizon as the sun sets so you can capture detail both in the land and the moon. 10. Create an action sequence series. Many action events can’t be told in a single picture. So as you take pictures consider how to best tell their story with an action sequence of 3 to 7 (or more) photos. It could be a rapid fire sequence of one fluid occurrence (horse approaching, leaping, and landing a jump) or take several discrete shots take minutes (or longer) apart that sum up an event, such as a triathlete participating in the swim, biking, and run events.


Capturing the climactic moment—ouch! Let me start out by saying if you take the time to read this, then you should read the next discussion because it’s about photographing the same rodeo with a completely different approach. I’m not sure why they call it bronc busting because clearly this rider is the one who is about to get busted. Catching telling moments in high-speed sports is always difficult. But few sports make it more difficult to time the climactic moment than bronc busting events at rodeos? Why’s that? Because there’s almost no predictability. You have no idea where the bull will go. Not only can he head in any direction on the compass but he spins, jumps, and twists, and the poor guy on top is thrown about like a rag doll, often moving opposite to what you might anticipate. So you have to react quickly, hope for the best, and take lots of pictures. I took this shot at the Clarkson rodeo about twenty miles west of Rochester, New York (yes, there are rodeos in New York, and they’re a blast to photograph). I was initiated into the rodeo world by an office neighbor who was a champion female barrel rider. At this smaller rodeo, I was able to crouch down right at the ring fence and position myself almost opposite where the bull and rider would enter the ring. I wanted a low angle to emphasize the power of the bull and hopefully the distance the dislodged rider would have to fall if bucked off. I’ll admit to luck helping me get this picture. But beyond the luck factor, here’s how to set up your camera to improve your odds of getting a good fast-action shot—be it a rodeo or elementary school football game. Start off with a telephoto zoom lens, such as a 70 to 200 or 300 mm lens. Set your D-SLR camera to a fairly high ISO, such as 800 (higher if it’s cloudy or a night time rodeo). Set the exposure mode to shutter-speed priority and choose a shutter speed of 1/2000 second or higher. Now set your camera to its fast picture-taking settings. This includes setting the focus mode to its high-speed setting (often called Continuous Servo) so the lens changes focus almost instantly as the subject moves; and set the burst (shutter button mode) to fast or continuous so you can take a whole series of pictures just by pressing and holding the shutter button. You can maximize the number of pictures you can take at high speed by using an ultra fast memory card and a jpeg setting of good or average. However, keep in mind if you don’t use the RAW file format, your exposure has to be pretty accurate because jpeg files give you less ability to adjust images in Photoshop than do RAW files.


Photo details: ISO 560, exposure 1/2500 second at f/6.3, taken with a 70-300mm lens set to a focal length of 78mm.

Capturing the motion—whee! Let me start by asking “Who the heck would climb on the back of a couple of tons of a human-compacting machine?” And I sure hope these guys play golf with some good orthopedic surgeons. Okay, enough of my amazement and awe of these bronc riders. Let’s discuss this picture. Unlike the previous shot where I used an ultra fast shutter speed of 1/2500 second to freeze the action at a peak moment (the rider flying off the bull), here I used a shutter speed 100 times slower. Why? Because I like to fool around with shutter speed and its effects. And I wanted to show you how very differently you can interpret similar scenes. My goal for this picture was to reveal the motion and frenzy and manic wildness of an animal desperately trying to rid itself of that thing clinging to its back. To show that frenzied motion, I used the technique of panning. In the book, I dedicate several pages to a discussion of panning since it is far and away the most popular way for photographers to convey motion in a photo. As a refresher, panning is when you track a rapidly moving subject with your camera and take the picture while you’re actually moving the camera. Typically you use a shutter speed between 1/8 and 1/125 second, depending on the speed of the subject. The result is that the subject should be moderately to barely blurred, but the rest of the picture is very blurred. It’s the blur that conveys a strong sense of motion. This picture is a bit more blurred than the typical panned shot, but that’s largely because I used a slow shutter speed (1/25 second) with an erratically moving subject. Yet, I think it works. Clearly the bull, caught leaping, seems energized and the rider is hanging on for dear life. With action subjects that move at a fairly consistent speed along a fairly straight path (such as a bicyclist or car), you can often reveal the moving subject quite sharp against a very blurred background. Experiment with the shutter speed you use. I suggest starting off with a shutter speed that’s about twice as fast as the moving subject (1/30 second for a bicyclist, for example) and then try some slower and faster shutter speeds to see which you prefer. The more motion blur you create the stronger the sense of movement in the picture. Set your camera to shutter-priority mode, so you can choose the shutter speed you desire. To achieve a slow shutter speed on a bright day, set your camera to its lowest ISO (typically 100 or 200) and attach a polarizing filter, which reduces light and lets you use a shutter speed almost four times slower. And if you’re really into motion photography, get


a couple of neutral density filters. They come in different ratings and can reduce light up to 100 times or more. Photo details: ISO 100, exposure 1/25 second at f/22, taken with a 70-300mm lens set to a focal length of 120mm, polarizing filter used to reduce the light almost two stops. Making the common uncommon with shutter speed When I walked into the bedroom and saw the summer breeze fluttering the curtains, I knew a picture awaited. All I needed was a vase of flowers. I ran to the garden, cut some flowers and clumped up the stairs clutching a vase, a small table, and a tripod. After setting the vase of flowers on a table in front of the window I waited and waited. I soon learned what most sailors already know--that summer breezes are fickle and inconstant, and can't be counted on to waft curtains (or sails) when you want them to. Rather than waste more time waiting for a breeze to blow in, I simulated a breeze by lifting and dropping the curtains. I placed the camera about eight feet from the curtains and set it on the two-second self-timer mode. Then I pressed the shutter release and did a quick three-step shuffle to the curtains, which I pulled up and spread out like the train of a wedding dress and then tried to drop just before the self timer opened the shutter. Judging by this picture you’d think I was successful. Well I was--but that’s only because I played the numbers game. Many an outtake shows my hand still holding the curtains or shows the curtains back at rest because I'd released them before the shutter opened. Suffice it to say that between my poor timing and the great variability of the appearance of the flopping curtains at different shutter speeds, I spent nearly an hour leaping from camera to curtains and curtains to camera. A remote shutter release (or an obedient and willing assistant) would have greatly simplified my task. Using shutter speeds ranging from 1/15 second to 1 second, I eventually found that shutter speeds around 1/4 second provided enough blur for the faster moving portions of the curtains. As in most aspects of life, contrast nearly always intensifies an experience. The contrast to motion is immobility. The contrast to white is color. So to contrast with the flopping white curtains I chose an immobile but colorful subject-a flower vase. If you decide to try this and want to avoid mopping up the floor of spilled water and shattered shards of vase, I suggest choosing a big, sturdy flower vase that can withstand the onslaught of curtains.

Creative Shutter Speed  

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